A motley crew of costumed characters with highly questionable morals is compelled – upon pain of death – to undertake a covert military mission in the “island nation of Corto Maltese.” What they uncover is much larger than any of them expected….
The Suicide Squad is exactly the over-the-top bloody, just-ridiculous-enough not-a-superhero movie you need. It’s pretty rare for sequels* to be better films than the originals, but James Gunn’s superpower is entertainment, and this movie puts 2016’s monotone Suicide Squad in the ground. Take the humor of Guardians of the Galaxy, add the pulp violence of Dawn of the Dead, season with cool special effects and interesting shots, and you’ve got a really fun movie.
Arley: So… The Suicide Squad. What’d ya think?
Josh: I thought it was super fucking fun!
Josh: I hadn’t seen the first one, so I didn’t know who any of the characters were, besides Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and I think that was fine. You didn’t need to know who anybody was. Besides Harley Quinn, I guess Colonel Flag (Joel Kinnaman) are the only characters from the first movie? Did you see the first movie?
Arley: I did. Don’t bother – it was terrible.
Josh: This reminded me of The Expendables, and I love that the shark was Sylvester Stallone, that was perfect. I got feelings of Mystery Men, Polka-Dot Man reminded me of Hank Azaria’s character, Blue Raja, it’s kind of the same thing. Obviously it’s very similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, and James Gunn brought in his regulars – you have Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, Nathan Fillion’s in there, Pom Klementieff who played Mantis is Guardians Vol. 2 has a cameo – there’s the hodge-podge assembled crew, they’re all wise-cracking, and wildly colorful which looks cool.
Arley: I thought for the most part the performances were good.
Josh: Yeah, but they don’t really have to be that good.
Arley: It’s such an over-the-top movie, the acting doesn’t need to be great. But you have Idris Elba and Viola Davis –
Josh: Idris Elba is so good in this movie. He has such a broad range. He can be emotionally heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time.
Arley: And he’s so good that you buy it. They are both great actors.
Josh: John Cena is the worst, he’s such a terrible actor, and of course he’s doing scenes with Idris Elba, who is just amazing, so he’s going to look stupid; but even when he’s doing lines with Joel Kinnaman, and Joel Kinnaman is not the best actor in the world, but even his level of delivering lines highlights what a terrible actor Cena is. Cena is only good at looking big and punching things.
With The Suicide Squad, Gunn shows off his knack for utilizing a rag-tag team. Different characters get enough screen time to feel utilized, to give the viewer a sense of actual character and uniqueness, and to feel important to both story and plot. Interpersonal dynamics vary depending on the pairings and this is one of many story elements slyly used to keep the movie interesting. From the outset, everyone has their role, and this is hinted at by the person controlling the squad, the morally suspect Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). At first it feels a bit like Ocean’s Eleven or The Fast and the Furious: this person is the safe cracker, that person is the explosives expert; but delivered so quickly you might miss it, and therefore, it feels less heavy-handed. But then, as the story develops, Gunn makes sure that everyone really does have their role, both in terms of what’s needed along the journey and in terms of entertainment value, each character working on multiple levels far beyond their preassigned purposes. And it’s all pulled off seamlessly.
Josh: I liked Harley Quinn better in this movie than I have in previous movies, because it fits better with who she is. She’s kind of a wild card and she’s super violent. It’s good to see her just mowing down random soldiers; she’s always just in her own little world, and some of the visuals that went with her were just perfect, such a good encapsulation of what she is.
Arley: And how she sees herself. The shark was hilarious.
Josh: Yeah the shark was probably my favorite.
Arley: They did a good job of shortcutting the opening – it took them less than five minutes to explain the premise to you. Kind of like what I was saying in The Green Knight, one of the things I appreciated, that I love in good writing, is surprise: the element of something going in an unexpected direction that still makes sense, it’s not like, utterly random. There were so many moments of that, so much creativity.
Josh: The movie is all over the place in terms of if there’s a message about morals – you’re using a bunch of criminals for what is ostensibly a good thing, but is personal freedom worth murdering all these people? And when the problems get bigger Waller is like “not our problem anymore” so, isn’t there a moral obligation to stop things from getting worse? And Cena reminded me of the way police are, they don’t enforce justice or maintain laws, they enforce status quo: we don’t care what’s happening as long as everyone is quiet, and no one is making a disturbance.
Arley: But the movie does the right thing in that within the movie they are interrogating these concepts for their flaws.
Josh: There are two parts where one character tells another “you’re a good person.” Elba and Kinnamon. Kinnamon is killing people and Elba is a mercenary. And some of the punishments seem disproportionate because some characters are far worse than others. I mean, again, it’s a comic book. But you can still find yourself rooting for all these people.
Whether you’re in it for the comic-book style philosophical subtext (comic-book readers know exactly what that means), the motley group, or the wonderfully vibrant colors, The Suicide Squad isn’t quite done being awesome. There are great shots, cool scenes, solid lines, and the effects are really interesting. But beyond these aspects, this movie is a masterclass in humor. Not only does humor punctuate and make the viewing experience dynamic, but there are multiple kinds of humor, and some of the humor is working on multiple levels. For example, in the banter between Bloodsport (Elba) and Peacemaker (Cena), the humor is both superficially hilarious, as well as hilarious in the ways it draws attention to the culture of toxic masculinity – but not just hilarious in the fact of drawing this attention; it’s a cleverly layered humor, which can hit different kinds of people and be appreciated in a variety of ways. It’s like a complex humor samosa, with a great chutney, and hey, if you just like fried food, it tastes like really good fried food!
Josh: I wasn’t sure at the beginning because it starts off kind of generic, and all the people on the team seem really annoying. It’s kind of like Bloodshot, where it starts out one way and then switches on you immediately and you’re like, ah fun!
Arley: So much of the enjoyment is in the surprises.
Josh: I watched it a second time, and it was still fun, but I was just waiting for certain scenes. It’s a comedy so if you already know what all the jokes are…
Josh: I’m glad James Gunn made this movie. I really like that it was a big budget James Gunn movie that got an R rating, because previously it’s been big budget but PG-13, or it’s been low-budget and R, like Super. It’s great to just let him off the leash just a little bit. I was starting to lose faith in superhero movies.
Arley: You get a movie like this, and it demonstrates that you can have a superhero movie which is really well written and entertaining. It can be done. So, you know. Take notes, y’all. Either that, or let Gunn do all the superhero movies.
Josh: He has more coming!
*Although, Gunn does not consider it a sequel; it might be more of a re-envisioning. This perspective might have given him the freedom to make something awesome. He told Los Angeles Daily News, “Frankly, the weirdness of doing a sequel that’s not a sequel was part of the appeal of it…. It’s not a sequel, it’s not a straight-up reboot, but it sort of lives in its own universe….”
Written and directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Michael Rooker, Viola Davis, John Ostrander, Daniela Melchior, Sylvester Stallone, David Dastmalchian, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn
JOSH PEARCE has stories and poetry in Analog, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cast of Wonders, Clarkesworld, IGMS, Nature, and more. Find him on Twitter: @fictionaljosh, or at fictionaljosh.com. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.
ARLEY SORG, Senior Editor, has been part of the Locus crew since 2014. Arley is a 2021 World Fantasy Award finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. He is also Associate Editor and reviewer at Lightspeed & Nightmare magazines, columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and interviewer at Clarkesworld Magazine. He grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and lives in Oakland, CA. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he can be found at arleysorg.com – where he has started his own “casual interview” series with authors and editors – and on Twitter (@arleysorg).
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